Inside No. 9: Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith on proving TV bosses wrong

Inside no9 cast
The first episode in the new series is called Boo to a Goose [James Stack]

From bone-chilling thrillers to hilariously dark comedies, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's anthology has managed to shock and surprise viewers for the past decade.

Ahead of the ninth and final season of Bafta award-winning Inside No. 9, they have been reflecting on the show's history, and it wasn't always plain sailing.

"There have definitely been times where TV executives have thought we can't achieve certain things, but we've always proved them wrong," explains 56-year-old Pemberton.

The pair haven't been afraid to experiment over the years, having produced an entirely silent episode, one all in iambic pentameter and now, in the final series, an episode filmed from a doorbell camera.

Pemberton remembers one particular episode that bosses said would never work.

"We wrote an episode where all the characters were filmed talking into a fixed cameras, and to prove that it would work, we directed it ourselves.

"It actually ended up being one of the most gripping episodes we've ever made."

The episode, Thinking Out Loud, was praised highly by critics, and is often included in a roundup of best episodes.

The i newspaper awarded the episode five stars and Sarah Hughes wrote that it "pulled the rug from underneath its audience's feet".

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton
Inside No. 9 won a Bafta for best scripted comedy in 2021 [Getty Images]

The actors also said bosses weren't too sure about the format of the show when they first suggested it.

"When we first pitched the idea of an anthology format with individual stories lasting 30 minutes, it felt radical and wasn't very well received," explains Shearsmith.

"But now the tide has turned," he says, with the likes of Charlie Brooker's TV show Black Mirror proving successful, with seven nominations at this year's TV Baftas.

In total, Pemberton and Shearsmith, who previously worked together on black comedy show A League of Gentleman, have written 55 standalone episodes of Inside No. 9 which can be watched in any order.

The duo credit the success of the show to the variety of genres it crosses and the self-contained nature of each episode.

'One is poison'

Shearsmith says people are now more interested in commitment-free TV instead of drawn-out series with convoluted plots and too many characters.

Pemberton describes the series as "a box of chocolates and one of them is poison".

"Sometimes you think the story is one genre and then halfway through it turns into another," he says. "It does so well because you never know what you're going to get."

Previous series have been met with a positive response from critics, with the eighth one receiving five stars from Carol Midgley at The Times, who described it as "exquisite".

And the pair definitely have pulled off some pretty impressive stunts over the years.

In 2018 their Halloween special episode tricked viewers into thinking the live show had run into technical difficulties so an old episode would air instead. It turned out the technical difficulties were actually all planned and part of the spooky twist.

But the problem with these kind of stunts and tricks is that they can only be done once.

Regular Inside No. 9 viewers know to always think outside the box and expect the unexpected.

So how does the writer and actor duo continuously manage to surprise viewers and deliver some killer (sometimes literally) twists?

"It has become increasingly difficult when people know to watch for red herrings, but we just try and focus on investing good stories that will hook you quickly and only need 30 minutes to tell," says 54-year-old Shearsmith.

"The last 30 seconds of a show shouldn't be everything, it's actually all about the journey," he adds. "The punchline of a joke doesn't make sense without the actual joke."

Pemberton says that it's important for the them to "plant the seed early" and says many viewers watch the episodes again, to see all the things they didn't spot the first time round.

"The answer is there all along," Pemberton tells the BBC.

Boo to a Goose

Speaking about the new series that airs on 8 May, there's not much that Shearsmith and Pemberton will give away.

Both say they are "very cagey" when it comes to giving out information about the show, as part of its appeal is people don't know what to expect.

Pemberton says the films and shows that have stuck with him the most over the years are the ones where he's gone in blind. "I think if I had read a synopsis or seen a trailer before it would have ruined it for me."

However, the duo are particularly excited about the first episode of the final series, which will be the 50th episode in the anthology.

Boo to a Goose sees an ensemble of British actors including Siobhan Finneran and Charlie Cooper all stuck on a late night train that has broken down.

"Every series we do an ensemble piece and we love it, because we put together our favourite actors, trap them together and see what happens," Pemberton says.

End of an era

As the series come to an end, the pair say they are feeling a mix of emotions.

Shearsmith says he never thought the show would be as successful as it is and is "delighted" that it has run for so many years.

"It's not a sad thing that it's ending, in fact it feels like a poetic point to stop at series nine," Shearsmith adds.

Having produced a range of episodes that are as shocking as they are disturbing, and comic as they are emotional, for Pemberton it feels like "we have done a lifetime of work in just 10 years" and both are very proud of leaving something behind.